The Modern Period summary



The Modern Period summary


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The Modern Period summary


Chapter 5 The Modern Period

I. Objectives:

  • To get a good idea of the historical and cultural background of the modern period;
  • To know some representative authors of this period, including their life experiences, major works and artistic features;
  • To analyze and appreciate the selected readings.

II. Learning and teaching focuses:

  • An excerpt from Mrs. Warren’s Profession;
  • D. H. Lawrence and Sons and Lovers;
  • “Araby”

III. Anticipated difficulty: the analysis and appreciation of the selected readings.

IV. Teaching methods and strategies: Class discussion and analysis.

V. Main body


  • An Introduction to the Period
  • Historical and cultural background
  • Two world wars→the collapse of the once sun-never-set Empire
  • The rise of philosophical ideas:

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: scientific socialism

Einstein: theory of relativity

Freud: analytical psychology

Friedrich Nietzsche: the doctrines of power and superman

Henry Bergson: irrational philosophy

  • Modernism (symbolism, expressionism, surrealism, futurism, Dadaism, imagism and stream of consciousness)
  • Modernism takes the irrational philosophy and the theory of psycho-analysis as its theoretical base.
  • The major themes of the modernist literature are the distorted, alienated and ill relationships between man and nature, man and society, man and man, and man and himself.
  • The modernist writers concentrate more on the private than on the public, more on the subjective than on the objective. Therefore, they pay more attention to the psychic time than the chronological one.
  • Modernism rejects rationalism.
  • English poetry

early years: Thomas Hardy and the war poets of the younger generation→

“modern poetry” (Pound, Eliot and Yeats’s matured poetry)→

1930s: “the red thirties” →

1950s: “The Movement” (a return of realistic poetry)

  • Novels

early years: the continuation of the Victorian tradition (John Galsworthy, H. G. Wells, and Arnold Bennett) →

working-class writers→

mid-1950s and early 1960s: “the Angry Young Men”

important authors: James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster and D. H. Lawrence

  • Drama

Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw

the Irish National Theater Movement

poetic drama: T. S. Eliot

the 1950s: the working-class drama and the Theater of Absurd


2. George Bernard Shaw (1856--- 1950)

1) Life Experiences

    Irish origin

    not much education

    Read Marx’s work and declared as a socialist

    Found the Fabian Society to attain socialism through peaceful, evolutionary means

2) Works and Achievements

    Main contribution to English literature: dramas

    Totally 51 plays

    Concerned about the social problems of his time

    Widowers’ Houses, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Pygmalion

  3) Artistic styles

a. Structurally and thematically, Shaw followed the great tradition of realism.

b. Characterization: showing up one character vividly at the expense of another; the representatives of ideas and points of view.

c. the inversion of a conventional theatrical situation

d. the vitality of the talk.

  4) Selected reading: an excerpt from Act II of Mrs. Warren’s Profession
a. outline: Mrs. Warren's Profession is a play about the economic oppression of   women. Mrs. Warren's profession is keeping brothels. Sir George Crofts, an old aristocrat, is her partner in this business. Vivie, Mrs. Warren's daughter, is educated in a very moral atmosphere at a boarding school. Upon graduation, she returns home and by accident discovers the source of her mother's income. Her conversations with Mrs. Warren and Sir George Crofts reveal the unscrupulousness of these members of the ruling class. It must be noted, however, that while protesting strongly against bourgeois exploitation and the immorality of the English ruling classes, Shaw points out no corrective. His heroine Vivie simply leaves her mother and, living independently, tries to earn her bread by honest work. Like Shaw, she is under the delusion that piecemeal, pretty and gradual reform will eventually do away with the evils of capitalism.

b. a detailed study of the excerpt, putting emphasis on those difficult words, phrases or sentences.
c. social significance: The play tells an outrageous truth: in a moribund capitalist society, even prostitution can be made a means of exploitation, and a sound investment. Here he exposes and satirizes the entire capitalist system, shows his infinite sympathy for the exploited, and therefore sharply and daringly touches on the most fundamental being of the capitalist system.


  • John Galsworthy (1867-1933)
  • Life:
    John Galsworthy was born into an upper-middle class family. He was educated first at Harrow and then at Oxford. After practicing the law for a short time, he turned to literature.
  • Major works:
    He published his first book, From the Four Winds (a volume of short stories), in 1897 under the pseudonym of John Sinjohn.

The experiences of his wife’s unhappy life of the first marriage were reflected in The Man of Property (1906), which, together with his first p1ay, The Silver Box (1906), established him as a prominent novelist and playwright in the public mind.

After the First Wor1d War he completed The Forsyte Saga, his first trilogy: The Man of Property, In Chancery (1920) and To Let (1921).

 His second Forsyte trilogy, A Modern Comedy, appeared in 1929, and the third, End of the Chapter, posthumous1y in 1934.

  • Artistic features:
    a. He showed great sympathy to the oppressed, but rebellious and unyie1ding class of the poor, which is bent on reforming things. He battled for many liberal causes, from women’s suffrage to the abo1ition of censorship. He was also a moralist and a critic whose primary aim as a writer was not to create a new society but to criticize the existing one, though his final aim was to keep a balance between the rich and the poor.
    b. The characteristics of Galsworthy’s critical realism:
    Ga1sworthy was a conventional writer, having inherited the fine traditions of the great Victorian nove1ists of the critical realism such as Dickens and Thackeray. Technically, he was more traditional than adventurous, focusing on plot development and character portrayal. With an objective observation and a naturalistic description, Galsworthy had tried his best to make an impartial presentation of the social 1ife in a documentary precision. By emphasizing the critical element in his writing, he daunt1essly laid bare the true features of the good and the evi1 of the bourgeois society. He was also successful in his attempt to present satire and humor in his writing. He wrote in a clear and unpretentious sty1e with a c1ear and straightforward language.
  • Selected Reading: An Excerpt from Chapter l3 of The Man of Property
    a. outline: The Man of Property is the first novel of the Forsyte trilogies which tell the ups and downs of the Forsyte family from 1886 to 1926. This novel centers itself on the Soames-Irene-Bosinney triangle. Soames Forsyte, a typical Forsyte, represents the essence of the principle that the accumulation of wealth is the sole aim of life, for he considers everything in terms of one’s property. Irene, his young and beautiful wife, on the contrary, loves art and cherishes noble ideals of life. But Soames never pay any attention to her thoughts and feeling; he takes her merely as part of his own property. Thus, Irene is not happy about her marriage. In order to please his wife, Soames asks Bosinney, a young architect, to build a country house for them. Like Irene, Bosinney is also interested in art and not in practical things in life. During the designing and building of the house, the two come to enjoy a great deal of each other’s company and finally fall in love with each other. Rumors arise and Soames wants his revenge. He sues Bosinney at the court for spending more money than stipulated. The conflict of the triangle ends tragically with Bosinney’s death in a car accident and Irene’s leaving Soames for good.
    b. the theme of this novel: It is that of the predominant possessive instinct of the Forsytes and its effects upon the personal relationships of the family with the underlying assumption that human relationships of the contemporary English society are merely an extension of property relationships.
    The harsh satire on this inhuman sense of property is brought out very effectively in the early chapters of the novel. But in the later part of the novel, the harsh tone gradually changes into a more tolerant one, and finally it becomes a distinctly sentimental one, thus weakening the effect of the novel.

4. William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
1) Life

W. B. Yeats was born into an Anglo-Irish Protestant family in Dub1in. He was brought up where old Irish way of 1ife and folk1ore were stil1 very strong. With a strong passion for Celtic 1egends, he read Irish poetry and the Gaelic sagas in translation. His youth was spent during the high tide of the Irish Nationalist Movement. He was a moderate nationalist. With the common cultural ideas of reviving the Irish literature, Yeats, Lady Gregory and John Synge organized the Irish National Dramatic Society and opened the Abbey Theater in 1904. Yeats served as its director and wrote more than 20 p1ays for the theater. In 1923, he was awarded NobeI Prize for 1iterature.

2) Yeats’s literary ideas:
Not content with any dogma in any of the established religious institutions, Yeats built up for himself a mystical system of beliefs. In choosing the mystical belief of cyclical history over the modern conception of progress, Yeats owed a great deal to the Italian philosopher Vico, and the German philosopher Nietzsche. He believed that history, and life, followed a circular, spiral pattern consisting of long cycles which repeated themselves over and over on different levels. And symbols 1ike “winding stairs”, “spinning tops”, “gyres” and “spirals” were part of his elaborate theory of history, which had obviously become the central core of order in his great poems. Yeats later disagreed with the idea of “art for art’s sake”. He came to see that literature should not be an end in itself but the expression of conviction and the garment of noble emotion. To write about Ire1and for an Irish audience and to recreate a specifically Irish literature—these were the aims that Yeats was fighting for as a poet and a playwright.

3) The three periods of Yeats’s poetic creation and their respective features:
Generally, his poetic career starting in the romantic tradition and finishing as a matured modernist poet can be divided into three periods according to the contents and sty1e of his poetry.
a. As a young man in the last decades of the 19th –century, Yeats began his poetic career in the romantic tradition. The major themes are usually Celtic 1egends, local folkta1es, or stories of the heroic age in Irish history. The representative works are “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, “The Man Who Dreamed of Faeryland”. The overall style of his early poetry is very delicate with natural imagery, dream-like atmosphere and musical beauty.
b. Yeats turned from the traditional poetry to a modernist one during the first two decades of the 20th century. Ideologically, he responded to Nietzsche’s works with great excitement; artistically, he came under the influence of French Symbolism and John Donne’s metaphysical poetry; and poetically, he accepted the modernist ideas in poetry writing advocated by Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. The representative poems are “Easter of 1916” and “New Era”.
c. Yeats reached the last stage of his poetic creation when he was over fifty. He felt more bitter and more disillusioned. Yeats came to realize that eternal beauty could only live in the realm of art. His concern has turned to the great subjects of dichotomy, such as, youth and age, love and war, vigor and wisdom, body and soul, and life and art. And this dichotomy has brought constant tensions in his works and revealed the human predicament. In this last period, Yeats has developed a tough, complex and symbolical style. The representative poems are “Sailing to Byzantium”, “Leda and the Swan” and “Monuments of Unaging intellect”.

4) Yeats as a dramatist and his contribution to modern theater:
He wrote verse plays in most of the cases. He wrote more than 20 plays in a stretch of 48 years. The stories of his early plays all came from the Irish myth or legends. His successful plays include The Countess Cathleen (1892), Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894), The Shadowy Waters (1900) and Purgatory (1935).
In his later phase of dramatic career, in order to reflect “the deeps of the mind”, Yeats began experimenting with techniques such as the use of masks, of ritualized actions, and of symbolic languages together with the combination of music and dance. In a certain way, his experiments anticipated the abstract movement of modern theater. However, even in his plays Yeats has remained a lyrical poet. His plays are enjoyed more for the beauty of their language than for dramatic situations.

5) Selected Readings:
a. “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”
The poem is written in 1893. Tired of the life of his day, Yeats sought to escape into an ideal “fairyland” where he could live calmly as a hermit and enjoy the beauty of nature. The poem consists of three quatrains of iambic pentameter, with each stanza rhymed abab. Innisfree is an inlet in the lake in Irish legends. Here the author is referring to a place for hermitage.
This poem is just a popular representative of the poems in which Yeats has achieved suggestive patterns of meaning by a careful counterpointing of contrasting ideas or images like human and fairy, natura1 and artificial, domestic and wild, and ephemeral and permanent. Around a “fairyland” background, the poem is c1osely woven, easy, subtle and musical; the c1arity and control of the imagery give the poem a haunting quality.
b. “Down by the Salley Gardens”
Originally entitled “An Old Song Resung”, with Yeats’s footnote: “This is an attempt to reconstruct an old song from three lines imperfectly remembered by an old peasant woman in the village of Ballysodare, Sligo, who often sings them to herself.”
The theme of the poem is very simple: a boy has fallen in love with a beautiful girl who is carefree and advises the boy not to be so serious about love and life. But he does not agree with her and suffers a lot.


  • T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)
    1) His life:

  Thomas Steams Eliot was born at St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A. Eliot was first educated at Smith Academy and then at Harvard where he concentrated his energies on studying philosophy and logic. He took interest in Elizabethan literature, the Italian Renaissance and Indian mystical philosophy of Buddhism. He was also attracted by the French symbolist poetry. He worked as the editor of The Egoist and The Criterion, the two most influential literary reviews of 20th century. He won various awards, including the Nobel Prize and the Order of Merit in 1948.

2) Literary career

  a. poetry

Eliot had a long poetic career, which was generally divided into two periods: the early one from 1915 to 1925, and the later one from 1927 onward.
The main features of T. S. Eliot’s early poems: In his early period, Eliot produced a fairly large number of poems, which were mainly collected in Poems 1909-25. His first important poem was “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. He also published Prufrock and Other Observations (1917) and his most famous poem The Waste Land (1922). As a young man with bitter disillusionment and with boldness in the handling of language, Eliot had explored in his early poetry various aspects of decay of culture in the modem Western world, expressing a sense of the disintegration of life. Most of his early poems are about a state of mind.
In his later period, Eliot produced only two major volumes of poetic works: Ash Wednesday and Four Quartets. The quest for stability, for order, and for the maintaining of the bourgeois status quo became his primary concern in his later works. The stream-of-consciousness technique has been largely employed in Eliot’s poems.

  • drama

 Murder in the Cathedral, The Family Reunion, The Cocktail Party, The Confidential Clerk, and The-Elder Statesman.

All the plays have something to do with Christian themes. His three later plays are also concerned with the subject of spiritual self-discovery but in the form of a sophisticated modern social comedy. Eliot’s major achievement in play writing has been the creation of a verse drama in the 20th century to express the ideas and actions of modern society with new accents of the contemporary speech.
c. prose
T. S. Eliot was also an important prose writer. During his literary career, he wrote a large number of essays, articles and book reviews. His essays are mainly concerned with cultural, social, religious, as well as literary issues. It is not inappropriate to say that Eliot, as a critic, may have occupied today a position of distinction and influence equal in importance to his position as a poet.

3) Selected Reading: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”:
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is Eliot’s most striking early achievement. It presents the meditation of an aging young man over the business of proposing marriage. The poem is in a form of dramatic monologue, suggesting an ironic contrast between a pretended “love song” and a confession of the speaker’s incapability of facing up to love and to life in a sterile upper-class world. Prufrock, the protagonist of the poem, is neurotic, self-important, illogical and incapable of action. He is a kind of tragic figure caught in a sense of defeated idealism and tortured by unsatisfied desires. The setting of the poem resembles the “polite society” of Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, in which a tea party is a significant event and a game of cards is the only way to stave off boredom. The poem is intensely anti-romantic with visual images of hard, gritty objects and evasive hellish atmosphere.


  • D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930)
    1) His life

David Herbert Lawrence was born at a mining village in Nottinghamshire. His father was a coal-miner with little education; but his mother, once a school teacher, was from a somewhat higher class, who came to think that she had married beneath her and desired to have her sons well educated so as to help them escape from the life of coal miners. The conflict between the earthy, coarse, energetic but often drunken father and the refined, strong-willed and up-climbing mother is vividly presented in his autobiographical novel, Sons and Lovers.

2) Major works:

 During his life-long literary career, he had written more than ten novels, several volumes of short stories and a large number of poems.

Representative works: Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow Women in Love, and Lady Chatterley's Lover.
The Rainbow:
a. The story: The Rainbow is a story about the three generations of the  Brangwen family on the Marsh farm. The first part is about the marriage and life of Tom Brangwen and Lydia Lensky, a Polish widow. They have a deep and loving understanding of each other in spite of the utter foreignness between them. They can also communicate with the mysterious natural world. Their relationship is presented as the model one in the novel. The second part of the novel is about Anna Lensky, Lydia's daughter by her first husband, and Will, Tom's nephew. They have physical passion for each other; but, in Lawrence's words, “their souls remain separate.” Their relationship is fraught with conflicts, and their marriage fails to achieve the final fulfillment of the older generation. The last part of the novel deals with Ursula, the eldest daughter of Will and Anna, who carries the story on into the third generation. This part of the novel traces Ursula's life from childhood through adolescence up to adulthood. At the end of the novel, Ursula is left with much experience behind her, but still “uncreated” in face of the unknown future.
b. The social significance of The Rainbow:

In this novel, Lawrence illustrates a terrible social corruption that accompanies the progress of human civilization. In Lawrence's opinion, the mechanical civilization is responsible for the unhealthy development of human personalities, the perversion of love and the failure of human fulfillment in marital relationships. In reading the novel, the reader often feels the threatening shadows of the disintegration and destructiveness of the whole civilized world which loom behind the emotional conflicts and psychological tensions of the characters. As a matter of fact, it is the first time for Lawrence to make a conscious attempt to combine social criticism with psychological exploration in his novel writing.
Women in Love:
a. The story: As its title implies, Women in Love is a novel about two pairs of lovers, around whom a series of episodes are dramatically presented. The two heroines are Ursula Brangwen and her younger sister Gudrun; and the two chief male characters are Gerald Crich, a young coalmine owner, and Rupert Birkin, a school inspector. At the opening of the story, Ursula and Birkin strike an immediate kin ship with each other, while Gudrun is attracted by Gerald's physical energy. The rest of the novel is a working out of the relationships of these four through interrelating events and conflicts of personalities. After a series of ups and downs, Birkin and Ursula have reached a fruitful relationship by maintaining their integrity and independence as individuals and decided to get married in the end. But the passionate love between Gudrun and Gerald experiences a process of tension and deterioration. As both of them have let their “will-power” and “ideals” interfere with their proper relations, their love turns out to be a disastrous tragedy.
b. The symbolic meanings in this novel:

 Women in Love is rich in its symbolic meanings. Gerald Crich, an efficient but ruthless coalmine owner, who makes the machine his god and establishes the inhuman mechanical system in his mining kingdom, is a symbolic figure of spiritual death, representing the whole set of bourgeois ethics. Whereas Birkin, a self-portrait of Lawrence, who fights against the cramping pressures of mechanized industrialism and the domination of any kind of dead formulas, is presented as a symbolic figure of human warmth, standing for the spontaneous Life Force. Women in Love is a remarkable novel in which the individual consciousness is subtly revealed and strands of themes are intricately wound up. The structural pattern of the book derives from the contrast between the destinies of the two pairs of lovers and the subordinate masculine relationship between Birkin and Gerald. The two sisters, the two male friends, and the two couples are closely paralleled in ideas, actions and relations so that each is corresponding to and contrasting with the other. Thus, Women in Love is regarded to be a more profoundly ordered novel than any other written by Lawrence.
Lady Chatterley's Lover:
In Lady Chatterley's Lover, Lawrence has returned to his early subjects and background of Nottinghamshire. By presenting an old romantic story about a dissatisfied aristocratic lady who deserts her half-man, half-machine husband to find love with a man of nature, Lawrence not only condemns the civilized world of mechanism that distorts all natural relationships between men and women, but also advocates a return to nature.
The theme of his short stories:

 Lawrence uses them to expose the bankruptcy of the mechanical civilization and to find an answer to it. Irony, humor and wit are the characteristic features of many of the stories. St. Mawr, The Daughter of the Vicar, The Horse Dealer's Daughter, The Captain's Doll, The Prussian Officer, and The Virgin and the Gypsy are generally considered to be Lawrence’s best known stories.

Lawrence is also a proficient poet. He began his poetry writing very early and wrote quite a large number of poems in his whole career. His poems fall roughly into three categories—satirical and comic poems, poems about human relationships and emotions, and poems about nature. Lawrence does not care much about the conventional metrical rules; what he tries to do in poetry is to catch the instant life of the immediate present.
Lawrence’s three influential plays are known as “the Lawrence trilogy”: A Collier's Friday Night, The Daughter-in-Law and The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyed. These three plays have in common the typical working-class environments set in Nottinghamshire. The main conflict is between the ignorant, drunken and brutish father or husband and the weary, frustrated mother or wife who tries to find emotional fulfillment in her children. What the plays focus on is the direct and violent emotions of the main characters in times of crisis in their married life. The plays are presented with a higher degree of objectivity and detachment than the novels by Lawrence.

3) The creative features and social significance of Lawrence's writing:

 Lawrence is one of the greatest English novelists of the 20th century. The major characteristic of his novel is that he combined social criticism with psychological exploration in his novel writing. He was not concerned with technical innovations; his interest lay in the tracing of psychological development of his character and in his energetic criticism of the dehumanizing effect of the capitalist industrialization on human nature.
Lawrence's artistic tendency is mainly realism, which combines dramatic scenes with an authoritative commentary. And the realistic feature is most obviously seen in its detailed portraiture.
In presenting the psychological aspects of his characters, Lawrence makes use of poetic imagination and symbolism in his writing. By using sets of natural images as poetic symbols to embody the emotional states of the characters and to illustrate human situations, Lawrence endows the traditional realism with a fresh psychological meaning. Through a combination of traditional realism and the innovating elements of symbolism and poetic imagination, Lawrence has managed to bring out the subtle ebb and flow of his characters' subconscious life.

The theme: In his writings, Lawrence has expressed a strong reaction against the mechanical civilization. In his opinion, the bourgeois industrialization or civilization, which made its realization at the cost of ravishing the land, started the catastrophic uprooting of man from nature and caused the distortion of personality, the corruption of the will, and the dominance of sterile intellect over the authentic inward passions of man. Under the mechanical control, human beings were turned into inanimated matter, while the inanimated matter should be animated to destroy both man and earth. It is this agonized concern about the dehumanizing effect of mechanical civilization on the sensual tenderness of human nature that haunts Lawrence's writing.

  • Lawrence's influence to modern and contemporary English literature:

He was one of the first novelists to introduce themes of psychology into his works. He made a bold psychological exploration of various human relations, especially those between men and women, with a great frankness. He believed that the healthy way of the individual's psychological development lay in the primacy of the life impulse, or in another term, the sexual impulse. Human sexuality was, to Lawrence, a symbol of Life Force. Lawrence declared that any repression of the sexual impulse based on social, religious, or moral values of the civilized world would cause severe damages to the harmony of human relationships and the psychic health of the individual's personality.

  • Sons and Lovers
    a. Read the textbook and give a summary of the story: Sons and Lovers is largely an autobiographical novel told by means of straight-forward narrative and vivid episodes in chronological sequence. The story starts with the marriage of Paul's parents. Mrs. Morel, daughter of a middle-class family, is “a woman of character and refinement”, a strong-willed, intelligent and ambitious woman who is fascinated by a warm, vigorous and sensuous coal miner, Walter Morel, and married beneath her own class. After an initial stage of happiness in their marriage, the class difference between them starts to estrange them from each other. The disillusion in her husband makes her lavish all the affections upon her sons. She determines that her sons should never become miners; they will be educated to realize her ideals of success, happiness and social esteem. Thus, the sons gradually come under the strong influence of the mother in affections, aspirations and mental habits, and see their father with their mother’s eyes, despising their father whose personality degenerates step by step as he feels his exclusion. Later Mrs. Morel stands in the way of her second son Paul's love affairs first with Miriam, a farmer's daughter, and then with Clara, a married woman who lives separated from her husband. In the near-end of the story, Mrs. Morel suffers from a terminal disease. Paul casts off his mistress and attends to his dying mother. It is only after his mother's death that he feels free. Resisting the urge to follow his mother into darkness, he walks towards life.
    b. Questions for class discussion:
  • Discuss Mrs. Morel. What are her hopes and dreams? What is her character like?
  • What makes Paul heroic? What characteristics make him small and egotistical?
  • Discuss Paul's conflict between his love for his mother and his relationship with each of his two potential mates, Miriam and Clara.
  • Compare D. H. Lawrence’s life to that of his character Paul.
  • Discuss the Oedipus complex as it appears in Sons and Lovers.


  • James Joyce (1882-1941)
  • Life:
    James Joyce was born into a Catholic family in Dublin, got his education at Catholic schools where he passed through a phase of religious enthusiasm but finally rejected the Catholic Church and started rebellion against the narrowness and bigotry of the bourgeois Philistines in Dublin. Influenced by Ibsen, Joyce finally decided to take the literary mission as his career. After his graduation, Joyce left Ireland to live and work in France, Italy and Switzerland for the rest of his life, for he regarded exile as the only way to preserve his integrity and to enable him to recreate the life in Dublin truthfully, completely and objectively in his writings.
  • Main works:

In his lifetime, Joyce wrote altogether three novels, a collection of short stories, two volumes of poetry, and one play. The novels and short stories are regarded as his great works, all of which have the same setting: Ireland, especially Dublin, and the same subject: the Irish people and their life.
representative works: Dubliners, a collection of 15 short stories; A Portrait of Artist as a Young Man, his first novel; Ulysses, his masterpiece; and Finnegans Wake.
a. A brief outline: Broadly speaking, Ulysses gives an account of man’s life during one day in Dublin. The three major characters are: Leopold Bloom, an Irish Jew, his wife, Marion Tweedy Bloom, and Stephen Dedalus, the protagonist in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The whole novel is divided into 18 episodes in correspondence with the 18 hours of the day. The first three episodes are mainly concerned with Stephen Dedalus: he gets up at 8 o’clock on this specific day; he teaches a history class at a boy’s school; and then he walks along the strand to town with random thoughts in mind. The next 14 episodes are largely about Leopold Bloom, who, after breakfast, goes about Dublin on his day’s routine activities. In the morning, Bloom takes a Turkish bath, calls in at the National Library, attends the funeral of a friend, and shows up at the newspaper office where he sells advertising. After lunch, Bloom wanders about in the city, meeting people in streets, at pubs and in shops, worrying about his wife, his money, his daughter and his digestion, pursuing persistently his own ruminations over his past, the death of his father and his baby son, but at the same time cocking an alert ear for what is going on around him. Then he roams along a beach at twilight, sitting at a place to watch an unknown girl and having a daydream. In the evening he visits a maternity hospital to inquire about the birth of a friend's baby. During the course of the day, Stephen also wanders aimlessly in the town, propounding his theory on Shakespeare’s Hamlet at the National Library, drinking at the students’ common room of the hospital, visiting a brothel in the “Nighttown” where he is rescued in a drunken affray by Bloom. Subsequently Bloom invites Stephen back to his home for a late drink. Stephen leaves in the early hours of the morning and Bloom goes to bed. The novel ends with the famous monologue by Molly, who is musing in a half-awake state over her past experiences as a woman.
b. The artistic features: Ulysses has become a prime example of modernism in literature. It is such an uncommon novel that there arises the question whether it can be termed as a “novel” at all; for it seems to lack almost all the essential qualities of the novel in a traditional sense: there is virtually no story, no plot, almost no action, and little characterization in the usual sense. The events of the day seem to be trivial, insignificant, or even banal. But below the surface of the events, the natural flow of mental reflections, the shifting moods and impulses in the characters’ inner world are richly presented in an unprecedentedly frank and penetrating way.
c. The social significance of the novel: In Ulysses, Joyce intends to present a microcosm of the whole human life by providing an instance of how a single event contains all the events of its kind, and how history is recapitulated in the happenings of one day. With complete objectivity and minute details of man’s everyday routines and his psychic processes, Joyce illustrates a symbolic picture of all human history, which is simultaneously tragic and comic, heroic and cowardly, magnificent and dreary. Like Eliot's masterpiece, The Waste Land, Joyce’s Ulysses presents a realistic picture of the modern wasteland in which modern men are portrayed as vulgar and trivial creatures with splitting personalities, disillusioned ideals, sordid minds and broken families, who are searching in vain for harmonious human relationships and spiritual sustenance in a decaying world.
d. The characteristics of Finnegans Wake:

In this encyclopedic work, Joyce ambitiously attempted to pack the whole history of mankind into one night’s dream. In the dream experience, there is no self-conscious logic, no orderly associations, no established values, no limits of time or space; all the past, present and future are mingled and float freely in the mind. Thus, Finnegans Wake is regarded as the most original experiment ever made in the novel form, and also the most difficult book to read.

  • Artistic features:

a. Joyce is regarded as the most prominent stream-of-consciousness novelist, concentrating on revealing in his novels the psychic being of the characters. In Joyce’s opinion, the artist, who wants to reach the highest stage and to gain the insights necessary for the creation of dramatic art, should rise to the position of a god-like objectivity; he should have the complete conscious control over the creative process and depersonalize his own emotion in the artistic creation. He should appear as an omniscient author and present unspoken materials directly from the psyche of the characters, or make the characters tell their own inner thoughts in monologues.
b. Another remarkable feature of Joyce’s writings is his style. His own style is a straightforward one, lucid, logical and leisurely; subtlety, economy and exactness are his standards. But when he tries to render the so-called stream of consciousness, the style changes: incomplete, rapid, broken wording and fragmentary sentences are the typical features, which reflect the shifting, flirting, disorderly flow of thoughts in the major characters’ minds. To create his modern Odyssey –Ulysses, Joyce adopts a kind of mock-heroic style. The essence of the mock-heroic lies in the application of apparently inappropriate styles. He achieves this mainly by elaborating his style into parody, pastiche, symbolic fantasy, and narration by question and answer from an omniscient narrator.

  • Selected Reading: “Araby” from Dubliners:
  • Theme: This tale of the frustrated quest for beauty in the midst of drabness is both meticulously realistic in its handling of details of Dublin life and the Dublin scene and highly symbolic in that almost every image and incident suggests some particular aspect of the theme. Joyce was drawing on his own childhood recollections, and the uncle in the story is a reminiscence of Joyce’s father. But in all the stories in Dubliners dealing with childhood, the child lives not with his parents but with an uncle and aunt—a symbol of that isolation and lack of proper relation between “consubstantial” (“in the flesh”) parents and children which is a major theme in Joyce’s work.
  • An analysis of symbols in the short story:

Mangan’s sister



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